Ether for Authors: How London Beat BEA’s Pants Off

In What's the Buzz by Porter Anderson

3 June 2013 key image starter BEA TEXTED STORY IMAGE

Table of Contents

  1. BEA: Time To Join Reality
  2. Best-selling Authors at BEA: Not always at the Signing Tables
  3. What Really Showed Up BEA’s Author Attitudes
  4. More BEA Observations
  5. e-Fairy Tales
  6. Conferences
  7. Last Gas: Pitching at LBF (not at BEA)

BEA: Time To Join Reality

What became clearer than ever this year is that BookExpo America positions authors primarily as creatures of the publishers.

A compilation of BEA images from the #BEA13 Epilogger account | Porter Anderson.

A compilation of BEA images from the #BEA13 Epilogger account | Porter Anderson

I’d like to see #BEA13 be the last hashtag we assign to such a retrograde concept.

If we all have to suffer the grotesqueries of the Jacob Javits Center (may the Senator’s ghost rise up and smite the damned place), the very least the BEA administration can do is match its sister effort in London with a recognition that many authors are now operating their own careers.

They can meet the industry on the Javitsian Plain as the essential, non-negotiable element of the business they are: the storytellers on which everything else depends.

It’s past time to create the same AuthorLounge-style central focus at New York’s BEA that I saw in rollicking sway when London Book Fair provided it.

3 June 2013 AuthorLounge at LBF 2013

London Book Fair’s AuthorLounge, programmed by Authoright, included both presentation and meeting space. Photo: Porter Anderson

It’s a shame it wasn’t in New York this year.

The irony here is that Reed Exhibitions produces both events. And I like the folks at Reed. I had a great experience working with them as a media partner in London.

Now that BEA is over (there was no time to get at this strange gaffe during the show), I’m hoping to be in touch with Steve Rosato and his team. I’d like to understand why an AuthorLounge-type development was missing from BEA.

In London, AuthorLounge was handled by Authoright, an author-services company that not only has offices in New York as well as London, conveniently enough.

Could their good handling of the AuthorLounge in London not have been replicated in New York? That’s what I hope to learn. And I’ll come back to you with what our friends at Reed and BEA tell me. Here is why this is so important. Back to Table of Contents  

 

Best-selling Authors at BEA: Not all at the Signing Tables

At BookExpo America, authors are not expected, for the most part, to move and shake as functional members of the publishing community, fighting their way across the rugs with the rest of us, holding meetings with the rest of us, networking with the rest of us, looking at the market’s offerings and running from the loudmouths of the industry! the industry! with the rest of us.

The Javits Atrium at BEA 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

The Javits Atrium at BEA 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

No, at BEA, they’re expected to appear (a) in a publisher’s booth, (b) at an “Author Breakfast”-type event, (c) on gigantic posters in the front atrium, or (d) at one of the signing tables besieged by glee-club-giddy fans. In other words, authors at BEA seem surely welcome, but only in their place. They’re not expected to be doing business of their own. BEA was developed deep in the old, cold era of publisher-controlled authors, indeed when only the mandate of a publisher’s fiat was likely to get them into BEA at all.

And we now can see that BookExpo America is lagging London in an understanding of the new entrepreneurial author’s potential and purpose in walking into a market under his or her own steam and doing business. The only thing more disappointing is all these people who keep asking, “Well, are you all rested up from BEA yet?” I may smack the next person who asks me that.

I know what BookExpo America keeps getting wrong in how it handles authors, because I know what London Book Fair got right. And it has to do with the place of the author at BEA.

“Oh, but BEA was swarming with authors,” you want to tell me, right? “500 signings! Aisles clogged with oddly dressed autograph seekers at booth signings!” If those things represent a positive regard for authors, you weren’t at London Book Fair. Earls Court concentrated a much healthier, realistic, and productive context for authors in the business in its creation with Authoright of AuthorLounge. It did more than anything else I’ve seen to make authors and their affairs accessible and visible at a trade show. Physically, AuthorLounge was two venues in one white-on-white pavilion. There was a “performance” venue with seats for demos, lectures, events. And there was a mix-and-mingle venue for receptions, get-togethers, meetings. The AuthorLounge gave writers real presence at the London Book Fair, the sense of an autonomous presence they have never known at BEA.

Ironically, I felt that AuthorLounge deserved a better location and prominence in London than it had. Even a better name. (Entrepreneurial authors, in case you don’t know, aren’t doing a lot of lounging around these days.)

But its events and sense of focus, set in the show’s overall digital zone (we’re still in that ghetto-izing era on both sides of the Pond) were more robust than events in the rust belt of the traditionalist pavilions. Those featured such moments as Joan Collins arriving to open the snoring Ivy Club. Now, having seen BEA again this year without such a venue? All is forgiven, London. Your AuthorLounge was terrific, let’s have it bigger and better next year, and I’ll see you there. Back to Table of Contents

 

What Really Showed Up BEA’s Author Attitudes

This year, bridging the author-presence provided by London’s AuthorLounge and the indentured servitude implied at BEA, was one exception, a group of six “Indie Bestsellers,” as they dubbed themselves.

Authors Hugh Howey and Barbara Freethy meet readers at Booth 966 at BEA 2013. | Photo: Porter Anderson

Authors Hugh Howey and Barbara Freethy meet readers at Booth 966 at BEA 2013. | Photo: Porter Anderson

In Writing on the Ether at JaneFriedman.com, I previewed these self-publishing and hybrid authors’ effort to take a booth together and see how it went. Having written up their intention, I kept an eye on them during the show in New York. They are Bella AndreStephanie BondTina FolsomBarbara FreethyHugh Howey, and CJ Lyons. By my count they have more than eight million books sold between them. Their standard talking figure is 10 million. (See, publishers? These authors can sling hype, too!)

 

In buying a booth and operating it, these highly successful, self-made authors revealed a nasty hole in the BEA ethos.

Booth 966 was no mere storefront to them. Not only did they run their own signing events there, including one on Thursday (May 30), but I discovered they’d manned the booth Friday (May 31), as well: I found Folsom talking with visitors to the booth when I needed an author’s appraisal of a new Ukraine-based production start-up, Cine-Books.

Authors Stephanie Bond, left, and Tina Folsom at the Indie Bestseller booth at BEA 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

Authors Stephanie Bond, left, and Tina Folsom at the Indie Bestseller booth at BEA 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

And then the authors used their booth Saturday (June 1) for public “Power Reader” signings. (“Power Reader” is BEA branding for the general public.) On Saturday evening, several of them came together in a reader-meetup event they’d arranged in Times Square. In short, these guys were working it. They found, one of them tells me, that having that booth was important to getting their meetings done with agents and others. Yes, BEA, these authors actually took meetings like the rest of us “industry professionals”—scandalous, isn’t it? They were operating as business people without a publisher’s permission.

Lyons tells me:

We often had two or three meetings going on at once (thank goodness the booth beside us was empty as we parked out there a lot when things got crowded at #966). Most of our meetings were impromptu but that was because it was really hard for us to schedule more than four or five official meetings (in advance) with six of our schedules to wrangle.

Author C.J. Lyons at the Indie Bestsellers Thursday (May 30) signing at BEA 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

Author C.J. Lyons at the Indie Bestsellers Thursday (May 30) signing at BEA 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

So let’s look at what we have here, in quick bulleted form.

  • Some of the biggest-selling authors at BEA weren’t signing books in publishers’ booths or at those fiendish little tables in the “Autograph Area.” 
  • Some of the biggest-selling authors at BEA paid their own way in, buying a booth with their own cash. 
  • Some of the biggest-selling authors at BEA had their own signage, used social media to draw their own fans, scheduled and performed their events, held multiple rounds of business meetings, and were up and down those aisles hugging readers, shaking hands, signing books, and winning customers. As in readers. 
  • And some of those biggest-selling authors have contracts with some of our biggest publishers including Simon & Schuster and Harlequin.
Amazon's CreateSpace display at BEA 2013 had a small presentation space, the closest thing to an AuthorLounge-type setup at the show. | Photo: Porter Anderson

Amazon’s CreateSpace display at BEA 2013 had a small presentation space, the closest thing to an AuthorLounge-type setup at the show. | Photo: Porter Anderson

While BEA didn’t offer so much as an AuthorLounge central focus, Amazon, by the way, did its best.

I saw our friends from Seattle’s CreateSpace booth, #1757 in the yellow-carpeted Digital Discovery Zone, bustling with events for authors, including appearances by two of the Booth 966 Six, —  Howey (of Wool, Shift, and the coming Dust) and Andre (of Come a Bit Closer and the coming The Look of Love).

There were presentations there from Goodreads’ (a recent Amazon acquisition) Patrick Brown, too—Goodreads’ co-founder Otis Chandler having been a headliner in IDPF’s Digital Book 2013 Conference. But the show, itself, was not as supportive of entrepreneurial authors as was London Book Fair this year, and I regret that. Because when Rosato tweeted a shot from a session of “Leaders who are Transforming How We Read,” there wasn’t an author on that panel. Not one. The authors were at Booth 966. Transforming how we read.

Back to Table of Contents

More BEA Observations

A compilation of BEA images from the #BEA13 Epilogger account | Porter Anderson

A compilation of BEA images from the #BEA13 Epilogger account | Porter Anderson

It hit me after sighting the pigeon flying through the miserable Jacob Javits Center Food Court, placed deep in the building near Hell’s Mouth, with its filthy tables and overpriced bad food.

Or maybe it was while chatting with GigaOM’s Laura Hazard Owen on a bus we’d jumped onto, the only vehicle escaping the Javits’ gravity.

(Did you read Owen’s Live Blog: Publishing Hackathon at BookExpo America from late Friday afternoon? No? Blind with exhaustion, were you? The story’s still there for you.)

Or perhaps this “who are those people?” question came to me when a squealing librarian on the Javitsian Plateau knocked my camera out of my hands. The replacement is coming to me from Amazon: Let’s see you other publishers fulfill that order.

Michael Cader in Here at the Hothouse in Publishers Lunch writes “BookExpo America organizers continue to pull off the nifty trick of perpetuating an annual gathering for the US book industry that no one really needs anymore but lots of people still enjoy and find valuable.”

He’s right. In an age of video-conferencing and ebooks’ growing ascendency, the swarming of the carpeted publishers’ booths by over-excited people who don’t look at all like the “industry professionals” they’re billed as being is an expensive, uncomfortable anachronism. But even more perplexing is who’s doing the swarming.

The line for the May 31 Kat Zhang book signing at BEA 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

The line for the May 31 Kat Zhang book signing at BEA 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

Let me show you what I mean. In this picture, you see a line of folks waiting to get the autograph at Table 4 of Vanderbilt University-based writer Kat Zhang. The author’s first book, the dystopian one-body/two souls story What’s Left of Me, is to be followed in late August by the release of a sequel, Once We Were. All good. Except for who’s in the picture.

This photo was taken not on Saturday, the public-wooing “Power Readers” day, but on Friday, one of the “industry professionals” days of the show.  Do the attractive, young folks sitting on the Javits floor so patiently waiting for Zhang’s 30-minute signing stint look to you like “industry professionals?”

To me, they look like glee club fans. And? There’s nothing wrong with glee club fans.

But at a publishing-industry trade show supposedly attended by teachers, booksellers, buyers, distributors, and camera-bashing librarians, you have to wonder several times a day at BEA, who these people holding up the tote bags really are.

Publishers LunchI’ve discovered that a lot of people will shake their heads and wonder along with you if you ask.

Whatever BEA is doing to keep going these days, “trade show” just may not adequately describe it.

BEA looked smaller this year, I agree with Cader (again in Here at the Hothouse) on this:

If we reported moods and feelings, we’d say the live exhibition floor space “feels” ever smaller, even as the show boasts 190 new exhibitors this year — but we asked for the facts, and BEA show director Steve Rosato says that exhibition space is “only marginally smaller” — by 1,000 square feet — than last year, while exhibitors have actually grown their “meeting space” on the show floor.

It seemed to me that the 1,000 square feet mentioned by Rosato was a very big 1,000 square feet. The majors’ booths looked squattier, too, less ambitious. In comparison to London’s show, BEA looked pre-fab, cheap, breakaway—ready for the crews to take it apart in about two hours on Saturday night.

Everything hung lower to the groaning floor of the exhibition hall, too. The aisles appeared narrower. One of the most insightful comments about author-service offerings—which seem to be springing up on all sides, of course—comes from author Chuck Wendig. In his Ten Things I Learned at BEA 2013, he writes:

If you’re a service trying to do outreach for authors and you want to step into the chain of authorial existence by adding yourself as a link, you need to have data. I spoke to a few services aimed at self-publishers (and they were admittedly free, to be clear, and were very nice), but they all balked when it came time to ask about data…Authors across all forms of publishing NEED MORE DATA. Where are we selling? To whom are we selling? Who buys what where? Where are my pants?

Wendig’s first foray into BEA comes with all the sass and savvy we expect from an accomplished author, big on the conference-lecture circuit, deep into a career involving both film and books. For what reads like a voice from the glee club, try Susan Lulgjuraj’s all-about-the-tote-bags account of her first tour-de-BEA at Teleread, Attending BookExpo America Almost Too Much To Handle.

Ellora's Cave (erotic romance) "Cavemen" cover models pose with their calendars at BEA 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

Ellora’s Cave (erotic romance) “Cavemen” cover models pose with their calendars at BEA 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

You start to realize how many different ways BEA can be experienced. I was dashing around between the press center managed by the helpful Ingrid (who was given woefully too few power outlets and chairs to handle us all) and meetings arranged weeks in advance with various executives who wanted to chat. Lulgjuraj on the other hand, was slogging through it at the tote-bag level:

I wasn’t the only onlooker who stopped in their tracks. Women lined up to take pictures of the beefy models and the men were all too happy to pose, flexing their muscles and snuggling close to their female fans. “We have a lot of fun here,” said Ellora’s Cave CEO Patty Marks. “It helps get people to notice us, but we do all sorts of conventions. Women enjoy our books and certainly enjoy our cover models.”

Back on the “industry professional” side of things, here is one of the few representations of “old guard” thinking on the current state of the disruption I’ve found.

Ed Nawotka was on his 14th BEA this year.

Ed Nawotka was on his 14th BEA this year.

It’s from our own Edward Nawotka, editor-in-chief here at Ether host Publishing Perspectives. His Friday thinker with Publishers Launch producers Cader and Mike Shatzkin as speakers is headlined Penguin Random House, the “Following Four,” and the Future of Competition. Nawotka’s worthwhile write-up has some fine observations, among them yet another focus for some at BEA:

While walking the halls of BookExpo America this week, if you ask almost anyone from the New York offices of Random House or Penguin what they are doing this summer, the answer is nearly always the same: “merging.” One editor remarked that they’d given up any hope of taking a holiday for the next few months out of fear that if they left, they’d return only to find they no longer had a desk…or a job.

A nice point-counterpoint opens up between Cader and Shatzkin in this piece:

Of course, noted Shatzkin’s conference co-organizer, the publishing journalist Michael Cader, “a merger is not a likely or viable competitive strategy.”

Shatzkin countered, “I ultimately think we’ll see that general trade publishing is going to consolidate into a single entity over the next ten years. I think you need to figure out how to work in a niche.”

Joe Wikert

Joe Wikert

From Joe Wikert (we kept passing on Javits escalators), the post Why BEA was like a live performance of “The Innovator’s Dilemma” makes the disturbing point very well:

Everywhere I turned I came across industry members who are way too focused on current channels and products. They’re happy that 20-30% of their revenues are coming from “digital”; of course, by “digital” they mean quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions, print-under-glass, or any one of a number of other descriptions of today’s ebook marketplace. Many of them will tell you privately that “the ebook revolution” was overblown…

Wikert’s most damning point is his best, and it embraces the seeming denial that BEA holds for authors as well as for the disruption that’s ripping the old underpinnings of publishing right out from under it:

An attendee from outside the industry could walk away from BEA believing all is well and that the digital sector is a nice side-business, almost a hobby.

So in the air-conditioned light of that Perpetual Resistance Mode, it’s back to Wendig, a man for whom this is anything but a hobby, for a telling comment on what he found to be the attitude this year toward ebooks. (More on those in our next section below.) Wendig gets to button up this BEA-ness for us today:

You still get the vibe [at BEA] that ebooks aren’t “real” books. I heard more about how ebooks were “cooling down,” which is like saying, “This 747 has reached its cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.” Yeah, it’s still 30,000 feet. It’s not crashing. eBooks are a giant part of the ecosystem now so let’s not pretend they’re not. Also, publishers, it’s really, honestly, seriously time: if I buy the physical copy of your book, give me the ebook. Just do it. Take that leap of faith. Realize that this will sell more books, not fewer books. Add value. Do not limit it. If you don’t do it first, Amazon will.

Back to Table of Contents

e-Fairy Tales

In the face of all the evidence, some in the industry seem to be pursuing their own narrative, namely ebook sales are declining or at best ‘plateauing’, people still love print books (which will ensure their survival for many years) and that we’ve got digital licked. Nothing to see here, please move along.

Sam Missingham

Sam Missingham

Sam Missingham’s In search of a happy ending at TheFutureBook tells the tale of the kind of denial that seemed to lie thicker than bright carpet on the floor of the Javits Center.

In an Amazon/iTunes world – where the digital gatekeepers deny us access to the actual sales data – as an industry we seem to be allowing wishful thinking and some (at best) dodgy maths to write the ending ‘we’ seem to want. An ending that is an emotional response to changing times rather than based on the stark light of commercial reality.

Jim Milliot

Jim Milliot

And from Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly, indeed, here’s the fat skinny on ebooks. Milliot’s BEA 2013: The eBook Boom Years landed on Wednesday, as the trade show’s biggest conferences were in session. Nothing could be more indicative of the digital disruption being discussed on the stages of those conferences as Milliot wrote:

eBbook sales of trade titles rose 44% in 2012 and have skyrocketed an astounding 4,660% since the format first began to gain traction in 2008, according to BookStats, the book industry statistical program overseen by the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group. The increase in units tracked not too far behind, rising 43% in 2012 to 457 million units sold, and jumping 4,456% since 2008.

Even without the kind of numbers we’d like from some major retailers, the story is compelling. You’d think burying your head in the Javits would be impossible at such a moment. Milliot:

Acceptance of e-books by the public has been a key for the growth of the format, and surveys done by Bowker Market Research show the month by month growth in the percentage of book buyers who have bought at least one e-book in a month. The 25% threshold was first reached in summer 2012; after dipping a bit in the fourth quarter of the year, it bounced back in early 2013 and hit the 26% mark in February.

And about that “slowdown?”

The slowdown in growth in 2012 was not unexpected as e-books have become a billion-dollar business, making triple-digit gains a thing of the past….The increase in 2012 was still good enough to increase the format’s share of the book market to 20% in the year, up from 16% in 2011, according to the BookStats data.

  As Missingham nails it:

We know that publishing is an industry full of people who love books. Many of us have fetishised them as objects and have had the occasional sniff of an old book. However, we need to separate our emotions and hopes from the facts. The expanding use of the phrases “ebook plateauing” or “ebook slowdown” are signs of a negative narrative that many in the industry seem to be pursuing – a narrative that is simply not backed up by the data.

Back to Table of Contents

Conferences

If you have a publishing conference in the offing, let me know about it via my contact page, and I’ll be happy to consider including it in my site’s listing and in columns as I have the chance. Here’s a look at conferences coming in the near term.  Please note that a listing here is not my endorsement of a conference or other event, but an informational inclusion.


Jackson Hole Writers ConferenceJune 27-29 Jackson Hole, Wyoming: Jackson Hole Writers Conference: “Each year distinguished speakers, editors and agents join our resident faculty to deliver a weekend of active and engaging dialogue, collaboration and the opportunity for all of us to raise the stakes on our work.Manuscript critiques are an important part of our conference, providing a way for you to discuss your work one-on-one with experienced writers, editors and agents.” The program also features a pre-conference writing workshop.

June 7-8 Free Word Centre, London: The Literary Conference 2013: “New speakers added to the line-up include TLS’s acting Fiction Editor Toby Lichtig, ground-breaking German self-publishing company Epubli’s Barbara Thiele, Founder of Riot Communications Preena Gadher, The Reading Agency’s Partnerships Manager Sandeep Mahal, author web and design expert Kristen Harrison of The Curved House, plus John Mitchinson of Unbound and the BBC’s Head of Partnership Development Bill Thompson.” Back to Table of Contents

 

Last Gas: Pitching at LBF (not at BEA)

I made my way to Earls Court. It was immense. The venue had been transformed into a giant labyrinth of booksellers from all over the globe. It was the final day of what, I understand, had been a gruelling and full on event. It had clearly taken its toll: exhibitors were lethargic, complexions grey, smiles forced.  Booths and stands were quiet, corridors sparse, the only signs of life were the scrawls of prowling writers armed with manuscripts and large butterfly nets scouring the conference centre for those elusive literary agents.

David Fennell

David Fennell

As things were being set up at the Javits Center in New York, author David Fennell was recalling his London Book Fair experience. Authoright’s AuthorLounge (described above) included for the first time, chances at LBF for unpublished authors to network with agents. As the description of this part of the programming puts it:

The LitFactor Pitch gives you the opportunity to present your book proposal to a literary agent, face-to-face, and get feedback on your ideas and submission material. Until now, book fairs have not been an appropriate place for authors and agents to meet. The LBF AuthorLounge, curated by Authoright, will change this, representing a new and productive relationship between authors and the publishing world.

And, in fact, Fennell goes on in his piece to describe what sounds like a pretty palpable hit in the world of pitching agents. The AuthorLounge LitFactor format allowed authors a generous (by industry standards) five minutes to make his pitch, 10 minutes for the agent to respond.

Four weeks passed. During that time the agent had requested and read the entire manuscript. And she enjoyed it! Woohoo! She invited me to London to discuss it further. I sat in her Soho office. She opened up a notepad and read through a list of comments and suggestions. For example:

  • Reduce the first 10k by a third, perhaps more, and get straight into the story.
  • Create more gadgets. This is, after all, a spy adventure.
  • Make it darker. There are some scary moments but more would be better. 

Fennell’s instructions now are to “send it back to me [the agent—we’re not privy in this piece to who she is] when the changes are complete.”

As Fennell writes, “what happens to my novel next is anyone’s guess.” But how good that this happened at the biggest publishing trade show in London. Where better to have the potential start of a salable property in literature than in the AuthorLounge context of the commercial floor. Let’s look to BEA next year to break free of the old authors-are-fine-in-their-place mode and create the right presence for today’s entrepreneurial, business-generating authors that was missing this year.

The incontrovertible fact is that all best-sellers today are not creatures of the publishers. It’s time for this business, and certainly for its biggest American trade show, to join its sister show in London and facilitate the development of the increasingly important and impressive entrepreneurial author. Back to Table of Contents

 


Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. This column, Ether for Authors, appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Mondays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read on Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com, and he is a regular contributor to WriterUnboxed.com. His all-new London on the Ether for The Bookseller was inaugurated during the London Book Fair. More about him is at PorterAnderson.com.

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About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.